Saturday, February 17, 2007
Mauritania, Spain struggle to find home for migrantsNOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) -- The 400 migrants stranded off the West African coast for 10 days as the governments of two countries argued over their fate continued their wait on land and in the air Tuesday.
Mauritanian officials were struggling to find countries willing to accept them.
Spanish officials sent four military planes to Mauritania to repatriate the migrants, but only one of the four had taken off by Tuesday afternoon. It headed south to Guinea-Bissau, a nation on the Atlantic coast near where the boat initially departed, but was turned back in mid-air, after Guinean officials refused to let it land.
It returned to Mauritania, where officials initially refused to allow it to land, but eventually let it land for refueling, said Yahfdhou Ould Amar, the police chief of Nouadhibou.
Soon after, it took off for what the governor of Nouadhibou called an unknown destination. "It's taken off but we don't know to where," said Mohamed Yahya Ould Mohamed Vall, the governor of the fishing town where the migrants initially came ashore on Monday.
The plane was carrying about 30 African migrants, who come from countries including Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
About 370 others are thought to be from Pakistan, mostly from the troubled region of Kashmir, but many have refused to divulge their identities in an attempt to avoid repatriation, Vall said.
Also hampering their repatriation is the fact that officials have not been able to arrange for governments in Asia to accept them.
Mauritania agreed to take the migrants following pressure from Spain and international aid groups, and on the condition that they would immediately be sent to their home countries.
The ship, called Marine 1, had been heading to Spain's Canary Islands, but ran into mechanical problems and was taken under tow off the Mauritanian coast by a Spanish rescue vessel over a week ago. Mauritania agreed to let the rusty, broken down vessel dock at one of its ports and allow its occupants ashore, after it spent 10 days in legal limbo on the high seas.